‘‘ ‘The Polluter Pays’: Backward-looking principles of intergenerational Justice and the environment

In Jean-Christophe Merle (ed.), Spheres of Global Justice. Springer. pp. 757-774 (2013)


This paper provides theoretical support for two historical principles for the allocation of remedial responsibility for paying the costs of pollution caused by humans. These remedial principles are based upon particular forms of backward-looking connection with the pollution in question. The suggestion is that we can have reasons to pay the costs of pollution when we are members of communities which were responsible for the original polluting acts in question and/or which have benefited from the polluting acts. In seeking to provide support for backward-looking remedial duties, the paper aims to bolster understandings of the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) which place the primary burden of meeting the costs of pollution upon those communities which caused the pollution in the first place. Thus, in supporting the “beneficiary pays” principle in general, and the “polluter pays” principle in some cases, I challenge interpretations of CBDR which maintain that backward-looking principles are unfair, since they impose duties upon present day generations who were not themselves responsible for the polluting acts in question

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Daniel Butt
Oxford University

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